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Writing in the Shadows

In these days of being constantly bombarded by news stories and content on social media, it’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of it all. But at times, we all feel the need to step back and get some privacy back into our lives. Authors are no different, and they’ve come up with a way to share their work without necessarily sharing themselves.

What Is a Pen Name?

A pen name; also referred to as a nom de plume or pseudonym, is a name that an author chooses to write under instead of their real name. There have been many writers over the years who have come up with creative names to represent their personal works. For example, the author of The Series of Unfortunate Events series of children’s books goes by Lemony Snicket, when his name is in fact, Daniel Handler. The pen name he chose fits with the unusual and somewhat whimsical nature of the books he has written.

Pros and Cons of Pen Names

There are some authors who use pen names and others who choose to publish under their real names. Is there a right option? We’ve outlined the pros and cons of using a pen name to help you get a better idea of what will work best for you.


1. Anonymity

One of the greatest benefits of adopting a pen name is the ability to remain anonymous. You’re able to publish your mystery novel and work your day job without mixing the two elements of your life. This is one of the best ways for nervous first-timers to keep their public and private lives separate.

2. Branding

John Grisham is known for his legal thrillers and Danielle Steel has her famous romance novels, but what if they wanted to write something new? Would they be able to switch genres just like that? For authors who want to branch out with their writing, using a pen name gives them the perfect escape. Agatha Christie wrote a number of books as Mary Westmacott and Jurassic Park’s Michael Crichton wrote a few of his first novels as Jeffrey Hudson.

3. Masks Gender

In the 1800s, Mary Ann Evans wrote under the name George Eliot. While there were a few female authors at the time, Evans chose to appear to the public as a man so she would not be judged by her gender, but as a writer. Worrying about the gender of an author may seem very outdated, but there are a few cases today where it does matter. For example, J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, decided that she would use her initials instead of going by her first name, Joanne. She feared that young boys would be reluctant to pick up a book written by a woman.


1. Too Private

While it’s important to have some privacy in your life, it is also possible to be too private. As we’ve discussed in a previous blog post, people enjoy reading author biographies and learning a little information about the authors of their favorite books. When authors choose to use a pen name, it often means that they adopt an entirely new persona. It’s important to know where to draw the line between mystery and fabrication.

2. Stunts Fame

One of the benefits of using a pen name that was already mentioned is that it allows authors to try out a new genre. Though it may give them the chance to get creative with their writing, it may not give them as much readership as they would like. Their real name might have a lot of fame associated with it, but the new pseudonym often forces them to start over from scratch.

Pen names may be popular in the publishing world, but they’re not for everyone. Each author must make this decision based on their personal viewpoint and writing style. Your name will be the face of your writing career, so choose wisely.

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